As the nation continues to demand action against white supremacy and police brutality, the recent deaths of two Black trans women are a disturbing reminder that we must stay vigilant to the growing violence against trans women of color.
Riah Milton of Liberty Township, Ohio, was shot and killed on Tuesday by three people who lured her into a park where she was ambushed and shot to death.
Three people have since been arrested in connection to her death.
Kaleb Marshall Tooson, 18, has since been charged with murder and aggravated robbery. Tyree Jeffery Cross, 25, currently has a warrant out for his arrest for Milton’s murder. A third assailant, an unidentified minor, was charged with complicity to aggravated robbery, murder, and tampering with evidence. He is currently being held by police.
“My dear sister Riah Milton passed away on June 9, 2020,” a friend wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay for Milton’s funeral and other arrangements. “She was an amazing person who was loved by everyone. This Gofundme is to help with sending her home.”
A second victim, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, was found along the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia earlier this week.
Reports state that Fells’s body sustained serious injuries to the head and face. Her legs were separate from her body and were not recovered at the scene or anywhere else.
According to Philadelphia Gay News, the manner in which her legs were severed suggest “they were run over by a train.”
“One more precious Black trans woman’s life has been violently taken,” Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans woman and community organizer, told Philadelphia Gay News.
“As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes Black trans lives,” Celena Morrison, a Black trans woman who leads the city’s office of LGBTQ+ Affairs, said in a statement. “Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ life mattered. We are reminded with this, and countless other painful losses — especially within our transgender communities — that there is much left to do until we achieve full equality, respect, and support for us all. The murder of transgender people — especially those of color — is truly an epidemic and a crisis that we cannot afford to allow to persist any further. Let us uplift her memory together.”
Morrison and her team are currently organizing a virtual grieving session for community members.
Both Milton and Fells were deadnamed and misgendered in early reports by local outlets following the news of their deaths. Their deaths are the latest in an epidemic of violence against Black trans women.
According to a 2019 audit by the National Center for Transgender Equality called “Failing to Protect and Serve,” which reviewed the 25 largest police departments in the country, it’s evident that law enforcement in the United States is failing to protect transgender people.
A separate survey from the NCTE of over 28,000 respondents showed that nearly 57 percent of trans people were afraid to go to the police when they needed help. Furthermore, 58 percent of trans people who had interaction with authorities claimed to have experienced harassment, abuse, or other mistreatment, while 60 percent reported to being physically assaulted and 64 percent reported to being sexually assaulted.
“We must shine a bright line on the increasing level of violence face by transgender people, and particularly Black transgender women,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “For every headline we see, we know that there are countless incidents of violence that go unreported because Black transgender people are afraid to go to the police. Dominique’s life mattered. Riah’s life mattered. We need to say their names and remember their lives.”
“Black transgender women live at the deadly intersection of transphobia, sexism and racism. Black lives matter. Black trans lives matter,” Heng-Lehtinen continued. “The police are failing Black transgender people. We must come together to enact meaningful reforms to ensure that transgender people can live their lives as they are without fear of violence in their communities or at the hands of the police.”